EDITORIAL COMMENT: Harare must stop culture of impunity

A familiar mantra of Harare City Council is that the capital should be a world class city by 2025. Ordinarily, that should not be a dream impossible. But as things stand, it’s just a pipe-dream. What has become a major characteristic of Harare is its filth. Water supplies are erratic, refuse is rarely collected on time, the streets in the suburbs and the central business district have become an eyesore. There is little to show that we have elected councillors who are accountable to anybody, but their own pockets.

Ordinary workers go for months without being paid. Nobody seems to care. They in turn do a shoddy job of their work. Similarly, those contracted to patch up the potholes in the suburbs throw soil about and move on. It doesn’t appear that anybody does any supervision at all.

If anyone is in charge of this pothole filling programme, then they must be getting an extra cheque with every piece of work done so that there are repeat jobs.

The point we are driving home to Harare councillors and their officials is the rot in the city as a result of a prevailing culture of impunity and the absence of accountability. That combination can never give Zimbabwe’s capital world class city status in a century. There is desperate, urgent need for a change of culture in the running of Harare.

First Lady Dr Grace Mugabe brought this matter to the fore at a ceremony to give Cde Dickson Chingaira a house built for him by the Zimbabwe Music Awards in Sentosa, Harare, on Tuesday. The First Lady used the occasion to underline a cancer that has metastasised in Harare because nobody seems to care — the matter of illegal residential structures.

Cde Chinx is one among many Harare residents whose houses were razed in the clean-up of illegal housing in 2005. Dr Mugabe pointed out that it was unfair and evil that people were left to erect structures on undesignated land under the nose of council officials, only to have their houses demolished at a later date.

She condemned the curse of land barons, either colluding with council officials and councillors or with politicians, who sell land to unsuspecting home-seekers. Again, apparently working in cahoots with council officials, papers are irregularly processed and building plans approved.

But when it’s convenient, the poor residents are told they violated council by-laws; they must move away. They lose a life-time’s savings and investment because of the criminal behaviour of a few improperly connected individuals.

We fully support the First Lady that land barons should be investigated thoroughly and those found guilty to serve time behind bars. But that is not enough. They should be made to compensate the people who lost their money. That is the only hope of ever stemming the culture of impunity.

The statement is repeated glibly that crime does not pay. Often the authorities seem to pay lip-service to this important dictum. Councillors and city officials have realised that crime in fact pays in Harare. Illegal structures are eventually regularised while city council officials who collaborate with land barons get away with a slap on the wrist. It’s a fine way to entice more sinners.

It is therefore not surprising that street vending has proliferated in Harare over the years. Mushikashika operators have joined in. Together with kombi drivers they have become a law unto themselves. In all the ensuing chaos, the honest ratepayer suffers the biggest prejudice.

While we appreciate fully the harsh economic phase the country is passing through, we don’t believe that’s sufficient justification for creating a jungle of lawlessness. Why have other cities and towns with far fewer resources fared much better than the capital?

Harare should and can set a better example. All it takes is to end a culture of impunity for criminal behaviour. So far, it has been the hallmark of incompetence and administrative failure. Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni and his team should not cry political victimisation when Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere wields the axe. We won’t miss them from Town House.

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